THE SURGE is underway, and more rapidly than many of us were expecting. The influx of new troops into Iraq? No, of candidates into the 2008 presidential contest.Jacoby notes that Senator John McCain, so far the frontrunner among GOP hopefuls, also considers the Islamist threat as the defining issue of the election:
So far this month, Senators Hillary Clinton of New York, Barack Obama of Illinois, and Chris Dodd of Connecticut, plus Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico -- Democrats all -- have formally launched White House campaigns (or "exploratory committees"). Already in the race were former senators John Edwards of North Carolina and Mike Gravel of Alaska, former governor Tom Vilsack of Iowa, and Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich.
Eight Democrats, eight would-be commanders-in-chief -- all running for president in a time of war. So which of them, on getting into the race, had this to say about the nature of the enemy confronting us?
"We are engaged in a war against an axis of Islamists, extremists, and terrorists. It is an axis of evil. It has headquarters in Tehran and Waziristan. But because of the unconventional nature of this war, it also has headquarters in cities throughout Europe and Asia and Africa and the United States of America, in cells that operate in the shadows but are prepared to strike us again as they did on September 11th, 2001.
"The enemy we are fighting is . . . totalitarian. It is inhumane. It has a violent ideology and a goal of expansionism and totalitarianism. It threatens our security, our values, our way of life as seriously, in my opinion, as fascism and communism did in the last century."
Can't match that assessment of the global jihad with the Democratic candidate who uttered it? Don't feel bad; it was a trick question. Those words were actually spoken by Senator Joseph Lieberman at a forum on Iraq this month. Lieberman shared the podium with GOP colleague John McCain, who was no less blunt in his evaluation of the war and its stakes.
The Democratic candidates, by contrast, are virtually silent on the subject....The irony here is that should the United States remain free from a terrorist attack over the next couple of years, and with the country therefore benefiting from an aggressive battle against the terrorists at home and abroad, a reduced sense of threat perception within the electorate might then make it more likely that a Democrat will be elected.
The Democrats seem prepared to emulate John Kerry, who insisted in 2004 that "we have to get back to the place we were" before 9/11. Back, that is, to treating Islamist terrorism not as "the focus of our lives," but merely as "a nuisance" that we need "to reduce" -- like gambling, he said, or prostitution.
Heading into the 2008 campaign, our political universe is still divided. On one side are those who see the Islamists as a nuisance to be controlled. On the other: those who regard them as an existential enemy to be destroyed. On the relative strength of those two camps, the next election may well depend.